Looking for STEAM activities to challenge your children?
I designed 30 STEAM activities presented as stimulus prompt cards. They engage and challenge my children as they explore concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. STEAM activities take STEM activities to the next level. The A (Arts) gives children the opportunity to develop their creative thinking skills alongside their critical thinking skills.
Why teach STEAM?
STEAM activities are gaining popularity in today’s classrooms. They give children opportunities to develop the skills that will be essential in their future. Employers will be sourcing workers with STEAM capabilities. It makes sense to be developing these skills early.
The STEAM curriculum is highly engaging. Children love the challenges of solving problems and approach these activities with enthusiasm. The activities provide opportunities for hands-on learning and integrate seamlessly into the play based classroom.
Another benefit of incorporating STEAM activities into the classroom is the social aspect. Children are encouraged to collaborate to solve a problem and create a new way of expressing their ideas. Both social skills and oral language skills are always a focus in an early childhood classroom and STEAM challenges are an ideal way to foster them.
The process of working together allows children to learn from each and see solutions they may not have independently thought of. Higher order thinking skills are developed through STEAM activities and include both critical and creative thinking skills.
It’s important to remember the process is the focus of any STEAM activity. The end product is not as important as how it was created. The journey is where the learning happens.
The beauty of STEAM activities is that everyone has something to offer. Everyone can succeed. The activities are innately differentiated. As they do in play, children will work in their zone of proximal development.
What it Looks Like in My Classroom
Whole Class STEAM Challenges
Once a week I timetable in a whole class STEAM challenge. I display the specific prompt straight from the .pdf file onto our interactive panel.
Sometimes the children work individually but more often I have them work with a friend. I like them working collaboratively. Sometimes the children choose their partner and sometimes I choose for them. I usually tell the children who their partner will be as I have noticed if a more able student works with a less able, everyone stays engaged and greater learning takes place.
Later in the year, after the children are familiar with the STEAM activities, I might put 3 children together. However, this changes the whole dynamics and sometimes has one child as a spectator so I prefer groups of 2. Collaboration is important as social skills are fostered during STEAM work.
Link STEAM to the Curriculum
I plan a STEAM challenge with the curriculum learning intentions in mind. I decide if I want a Math, English or Science focus. Here are a few examples of some of our challenges:
- How many ways can you represent this number using these resources?
- How many ways can you represent this shape?
- Use these materials to make a ruler.
- Use the materials to make a tool to measure length.
- Use these resources to make this book character.
- Make the setting from this book with these resources.
- Design an object that has the /ow/ sound in its name.
I set a time limit on their working time. This helps with engagement and creates a sense of urgency. When the timer goes, we all down tools and I nearly always get complaints! I set the timer for 15 to 20 minutes and give 5 minute and 1 minute warnings. Before I press start on the timer, I remind children to think about how they will be representing their knowledge. I like to give the partners a chance to discuss and plan first.
What resources should you offer?
The resources I provide are planned and already prepared. If I’m organised, they are compiled into clip-lock bags. At other times, I put trays or baskets containing the resources around the room and the children are given time to collect the supplies themselves. This happens before the timer starts. Always check each group has the correct supplies before that timer starts.
I have compiled a comprehensive list of resources that I use for my STEAM challenges. You can download the full list for FREE in my Resource Library. If you would like a couple of pages from the full list, I have a sample here.
I use resources that are readily available in early childhood classrooms and if not, they can be purchased cheaply.
If you liked the sample list of resources, you might like to join My Teaching Cupboard’s Email Group. I don’t send out emails very often though. You will get access to my FREE Resource Library when you sign up. In the FREE Resource LIbrary, you’ll find the full STEAM resource list along with some other resources I know you’ll find useful.
4 Steps in Planning Resources
1. Building Base: When planning the resources to provide in a STEAM activity, I always have 1 or 2 construction materials. These act as a building base. Paper, card or playdough are common. I have many more options in the free download list though. You can easily alter these base materials by changing their attributes. Think about changing the size, shape, colour or texture of paper offered.
2. Joiners: Next, I’ll choose something the children can use to join the base materials. Glue, tape, string or wire perhaps. Again, these can be altered. Glue could be either a glue stick, PVA in a squeeze bottle or maybe a tub of Clag. Tape might be cello-tape, masking tape or washi tape. These are usually included in their clip-lock bag but sometimes I will just tell the children they are free to use glue if they wish. It is interesting to see which glue they use when given that option.
3. Tools: Then I add something that can alter the base building material. Scissors or paper punches might be an option for paper and card. If you are having a focus on measuring in Math, add a ruler as a tool. Pop sticks and toothpicks make great little tools to alter playdough.
4. Creative Oddball: Finally, I add a creative oddball. This inclusion takes the activity from a STEM to a STEAM challenge. I’ll usually look at the collage trolley for some inspiration. I might include a black and a white feather, or 3 pompoms of different sizes, or maybe even all of these. The children are not always required to use every resource I provide unless of course I make that a rule at the start. They are not allowed to use any other materials or tools other than those I provide though.
Each group gets exactly the same resources.
You might like to repeat the challenge the following week but change the materials supplied. This benefits the children by helping them build on prior knowledge. You will notice them incorporate newly learned ideas a second time around.
It is very important to review and reflect on the STEAM challenge with the children. This reflection helps the children process their learning and thinking. When the timer goes, we stop building immediately. After the initial “Ohhh Nooo!”, we clean up our work space. Then the children are free to walk around and observe other teams results. I often hearing them question each other or offer some constructive feedback to one another.
We will then return to the carpet meeting place and have a class discussion reflecting on the task. Some points we might discuss include:
- How effective were the materials for this task?
- What’s another material you would have liked included?
- What problems did you face? How did you tackle that problem?
- What was successful for you? Why?
- Was there too much time allowed or not enough?
- What would you change next time?
- Did you see a great idea from another team?
I have a play-based classroom. The STEAM activity cards I have designed play a vital role as provocations in my investigation areas.
I use them regularly at the play dough table, in the box construction area, at the wooden blocks, with lego and at the collage table. The prompt card I choose to display always relates to a current curriculum learning intention. I plan and design specific provocations around both the learning intention and the resources I have.
3D Shape Provocation: When we were learning about 3D shapes, I set up this provocation on a small table. Desert sand (purchased at the pet shop) was placed in a tray. Next to the tray, I offered some small wooden blocks, some glass gems and a few pop sticks and matchsticks. These resources were presented in bowls next to the prompt card on display. I try to add something which is not obviously related to the task (like the glass gems). It’s interesting to see whether the children choose to use that material and what they do with it.
Farm Provocation: When we were learning about living things and their habitats, I added this STEAM prompt to our blocks construction area. I offered some farm animals, blocks, fabric and stones. Sometimes the children will get a resource from another part of the classroom and I encourage that resourceful thinking. These STEAM challenges are not as strict as the whole class activities.
Another strategy I have found useful is to take the STEAM prompt from a whole class challenge and then place it in an investigation area the following week. This is a wonderful way to have children expand their thinking and build on what they learned in the whole class lesson.
Looking for STEAM activities to challenge your children?
You will love these 30 STEAM cards. I designed them as stimulus prompts for children exploring concepts in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. These inviting prompts will help your children develop their higher order thinking skills by challenging them to think both creatively and critically.
You will receive a .pdf file containing 30 STEAM Prompt cards. They are presented in A4 format but can easily be reduced in size by choosing the tiled option on your printer. You might like to print 2 or 4 to a page. I do recommend printing them at a high quality to achieve the stunning quality.